For Stephon Slater ’23, art has the power to illuminate.
His provocative photographs that take on issues of race, history, and people of color will now shine brightly on a bigger stage at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Slater, a photography major from Hampton, is one of eight undergraduate students to be awarded a Visual Art Fellowship by the VMFA, one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States. Each year, a select group of Virginia undergraduate, graduate, and professional artists working in various media are awarded fellowships and have their work displayed at the Richmond-based museum.
“It’s a real honor to earn a VMFA fellowship,” said Slater. “It’s incredible to be honored, knowing how many talented artists apply to this program each year.”
Slater’s photographs explore unresolved issues centered on race and racism in the United States, frequently drawing on his own experiences as a young person of color in Virginia. The photograph that he submitted to the VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship jury addresses the issue of code-switching.
I think a lot of people make ‘happy art,’ but I want to talk about things that are prevalent in society—even if they don’t make people comfortable.Stephon Slater ’23 Tweet This
“People of color have to live in two different worlds,” he said. “We have to switch how we speak and what we say depending on who we’re around to make the other person feel comfortable. And I tried to visualize what that feels like as a person of color.”
Slater is one of only five undergraduate fellows this year to receive the maximum financial award of $4,000 from the VMFA. He plans to use the funds to further his photography while at Longwood.
“I think a lot of people make ‘happy art,’ but I want to talk about things that are prevalent in society—even if they don’t make people comfortable,” he said. “I think a lot about different historical figures and events, and how they affect the modern experience of people of color. For example, redlining was used to refuse loans to people of color in certain neighborhoods in the past, and these neighborhoods decades later are still poor or riddled with crime. I think it’s important to shine a light on that through art.”
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellowship program was established in 1940 and has awarded more than $5.9 million in fellowship grants.